With almost an hour passed and the Detroit Lions on the clock in the first round, the team found itself in the position they had prepared for since the beginning of the draft season: Joe Burrow was the Cincinnati Bengals’ pick first overall, Chase Young didn’t make it past Washington’s pick at No. 2, and it was time for Detroit to make their move.
Months of mock drafts and pick prognostication suggested the Lions were set up to move back in the draft with a quarterback-hungry team. Rumors were rampant all Thursday long about the Dolphins at five, the Chargers at six, and even the Jaguars at nine being interested in swapping spots with the Lions, and here was Detroit’s chance to capitalize on the draft “finally starting” at No. 3.
Except they didn’t. At least not in the way many had convinced themselves the Lions would with their first round pick.
Instead, Detroit made the right pick, the surefire selection by taking Ohio State’s Jeffrey Okudah with the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Anticlimactic? Sure. But Detroit’s options appear to have been non-existent when it came to moving back; Bob Quinn couldn’t find a partner to dance at No. 3, so they took the guy everyone and their mother thought they were going to take by selecting Okudah.
Over the course of Thursday night, six cornerbacks—including Okudah—were taken in the draft’s first round, and Detroit emerged with the position’s best player. And it just so happens that the Lions’ selection of Okudah, along with the way the draft board has shaken itself out, puts Detroit in a position to select from a host of top-tier talent at positions of need to kick off round two.
Let’s take a look at how things could play out for Detroit’s three picks on Day 2.
Round 2, Pick 35: EDGE A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
Detroit’s selection of Okudah early Thursday night left plenty of time for everyone to see the rest of the first round unfold. As the picks came in, one name that stuck around pick after pick was Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, a player who had become popular in Detroit draft circles. After New England traded out of their pick at 23, and the Tennessee Titans chose Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson 29th overall, two potential suitors for Epenesa had gone in a different direction.
Career games with an 80.0+ pass-rushing grade:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 18, 2020
▪️ Chase Young: 11
▪️ Curtis Weaver: 10
▪️ A.J. Epenesa: 6
▪️ Darrell Taylor: 4
▪️ Julian Okwara: 3
Two picks will be made before Detroit is on the clock Friday evening, but a player like Epenesa at 35 would be an absolute dynamite get for the Lions in terms of boosting their defensive line and adding a player who could be a contributor from day one.
Once viewed as a top-25 pick, concerns about Epenesa’s lack of burst and agility were put on full display at the Combine, resulting in his draft stock plummeting. That’s no matter to Matt Patricia and his 3-3-5 defense, where the Lions could take full advantage of Epenesa’s ability as a true power end. He has the requisite strength and length to play the run first in Patricia’s scheme and the power to control the point of attack with heavy hands and sound technique—all traits the Lions covet from their defensive ends.
Round 3, Pick 67: G Jonah Jackson (Ohio State)
One of the more surprising selections on Day 1 was Cesar Ruiz, interior offensive linemen from Michigan, sneaking his way into the first round and getting picked by the New Orleans Saints at No. 24. It was surprising in the sense that this class of IOL seems to be pretty lean on top-end talent, but has some considerable depth in the middle rounds.
Regardless, Detroit’s able to take advantage of that depth here with Ohio State’s Jonah Jackson, adding a player that’s a true position of need without reaching or shifting their plans from Halapoulivaati Vaitai playing right tackle.
Keep your eyes on #73 Jonah Jackson with the pancake block. He plays with a nasty attitude on the field. pic.twitter.com/T7SgUbkwui— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) September 4, 2019
Detroit is one of teams who was in contact with Jackson during this unprecedented pre-draft process, but that’s really no surprise considering the way Jackson dominated the Senior Bowl. Jackson isn’t a player who will “wow” you with his athletic traits—he tested pretty pedestrian at the Combine—but his technical ability, specifically as a pass blocker, more than makes up for his athletic shortcomings. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson surrendered just one combined sack and hit in 1,020 pass-blocking snaps. Logging snaps at both right and left guard over the course of his collegiate career is something that will endear him to this Lions coaching staff as well.
Round 3, Pick 85: WR Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)
Grabbing both Epenesa and Jackson on Day 2 would be enough to prove the Lions drastically upgraded at two positions of need, but adding a talent like Tyler Johnson to cap off the evening would be icing on the proverbial cake.
Most receptions of 15+ yards since 2017— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) April 23, 2020
1. Tyler Johnson - 80
2. Denzel Mims - 78 pic.twitter.com/xOuXziQrUr
Johnson looks the part of an NFL wideout, standing at 6-foot-2 and just over 200 pounds, but his ability to win both outside the numbers and in the slot are what make him a really compelling player for Detroit. Without a wide receiver under contract past 2020, the Lions are likely drawn to Johnson’s versatility and big play ability. Plus, it would afford the team a chance to get younger and cheaper at the position—both important pieces to the puzzle when thinking of an eventual replacement for Marvin Jones Jr. and navigating a contract extension for Kenny Golladay.